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Common Sense & Simplicity: Looking For a Few Good Skis

Time is of the essence, in life generally, and skiing in particular.
Races are timed, and the idea is to get to the finish as soon as possible. That’s pretty simple. Apart from this haste, we all wish we had more time to use—more time to train, more time to ski, more time to learn better technique and more time to prepare our skis. But, even though time is precious, we often get sidetracked into the one time-consuming thing we can accumulate—more pairs of skis.

It may be surprising to hear this from one working in high-level race service for a ski company, but you probably don’t need so many skis—just really good ones. (This still keeps the ski companies in business, as long as they make really good ones.) All ski companies are making better and better skis; you just need to learn what works for you.

For 41-year-old Duncan Douglas at the 2005 American Birkebeiner, simplicity paid off. Having worked all day Friday at his job as an emergency room doctor in Rochester, NY, Duncan caught his flight, but missed his late-evening Detroit connection to Duluth. He talked his way onto a plane to Minneapolis, rented a car, and arrived at 1 a.m. on Birkebeiner race morning, with only his carry-on bag which held his ski boots. After taking his surprise cell-phone call from Detroit, I prepared one pair of skis for him. It was a good pair of skis, and that’s all it took—Duncan finished in 19th place. (We never did hear when Duncan’s ski bag showed up, but even that only held two pairs of skis.)

Of course, this is a tribute to Duncan’s fearless attitude toward life, and I’d like to think some tribute to the waxing. But it’s proof that the simple approach to ski selection can certainly work—in this case, the selection of one historically very good pair. Just try testing more than one pair of skis among 6,500 skiers just before the Birkebeiner start!

In spite of larger ski bags, oversized garages and sometimes-oversized pocketbooks, we only have two feet and only use one pair of skis at a time. With both classic and skate skiing, you can own as few as two pairs. At the top national and international racing level, skiers have many more skis than this, but the same 24 hours in the day; some skiers have a wax- and ski-service staff, or access to quality help in testing, preparing, packing (and carrying) all their skis. You probably don’t.

Most skiers realistically are their own service staff. Therefore, regardless of ski brand, it’s critical to keep your ski assortment small, simple and effective. To reduce your ski arsenal to the best, try using these principles:

  • Know your skis very well. Try all your skis in all possible conditions, as frequently as needed, to learn when not to use them.
  • Keep a ski journal with simple notes on which skis you used (and, hopefully, liked)—both for workouts, and for races. Include the temperature, the snow conditions—fresh or old—and track conditions—soft or hard.
  • Compare your skis with others, utilizing on-snow demos with an open mind and humble curiosity. Maybe you really need a different pair. Or, maybe your skis are really quite good (and, no, your friend may not borrow them after all).
  • Wax religiously, but keep this simple also.
  • Have skis stone-ground with wide-range all around grinds, which will put you into the money nearly every race. (When you are fast enough to have accumulated a quiver of all great skis and a support staff to test them all, you can address the exotic grinds!)

The result of putting these principles to work is more time to concentrate on what will give the best race results: More time to test fewer skis and really feel the race skis on race day. More time to test waxes effectively and decisively. More time to warm up properly and focus on the race course and the task at hand.

From this simple approach comes a positive attitude with confidence in your skis and yourself. No abundance of extra skis and exotic waxes can match that!

Time and again we’ve witnessed the best skiers take the simple route to the best results: Josh Thompson, Biathlon star of the 80s and early 90s and still the most successful U.S. Biathlete ever, eschewed the speed traps then prevalent for pre-race ski-testing and quietly disappeared to test his various skis for feel alone. He’d then re-appear to confirm for himself (or maybe for us coaches) that his chosen skis were in the hunt with just one run through the trap. His skis were nearly always fastest on the team and his mind already on the race, not the skis.

Beckie Scott, pride of XC Canada, went two seasons using one pair of skis for approximately 60% of her skate races. Torgny Mogren, Swedish superstar from the 80s and 90s, threatened to retire when his one favorite pair of skis could no longer be stoneground. The result for these skiers was increased focus and confidence.

As a serviceman and waxer, I love it when juniors wise beyond their years and national team members tell me they want fewer skis—to keep the equipment factor highly effective, but simple. Come to terms with your time: Acquire and nurture only a few good skis, accept your physical limitations and concentrate on what you control—your preparation and the amount you rest before the race versus incessant, late-night waxing. And then, enjoy the experience.

Time will work for you, instead of against you. And just maybe you will have the race of your life, and say not only "that was easy," but also, "that was simple!"

  1. Wax quickly and often, as soon as possible after skiing. Wax tomorrow’s expected glide wax today, and then scrape and brush before tomorrow’s training. The bases will never dry out; they’ll stay cleaner and will absorb more wax day by day.
  2. After skiing, brush the bases clean, crayon a layer of glide wax over the base. Drip a line of additional wax down each side of the groove and iron smoothly with continuous nonstop motion of the iron, no more than two or three passes.
  3. Use enough wax so the iron floats on the melted layer of wax, rather than contacting the base itself. Harder, cold temperature waxes won’t melt as quickly and won’t stay molten as long as softer waxes; use a slightly hotter iron and slow the speed of the iron slightly, but don’t increase the number of passes with the iron without letting the ski completely cool first. Avoid overheating the core or base material.
  4. Clean and re-apply kick waxes each day to get better at kick waxing. Scrape excess kick wax or klister gently with a klister scraper or putty knife, without gouging the base. Cork in the residue; it provides a good basewax for tomorrow’s training. Minimize use of wax remover, which can dry out bases. Use it only if the base and wax is dirty, and use it mostly to clean the sidewalls.
  5. Use less-expensive waxes for training, and wax more often. Use the more expensive (fluorinated) waxes enough to know how and when to use them for racing.
  6. Get to know one brand of wax well, and gradually learn other brands so you trust them as well. Time in the waxroom should be short and sweet! Five to ten minutes of quality time each training day will do wonders for your skis!

© Cross Country Skier: November 2005, Vol. 25 Issue 1

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